LA based Hecate's Angels have an arty, futuristic cabaret sound, based around the creative vision of musician Pietra Wexstun (responsible for vocals, keyboards, autoharp and dulcimer, with songwriting and production throughout) and augmented by instrumentation including wind, strings, guitar, and diverse percussion. You'll see strange mythic pictures in your mind, go back in time, speak in tongues and then wonder who slipped that great mickey in your hi-ball glass. THE CHORD
Named after Hecate (Heh-ca-tee), the Greek Goddess of sorcery and witchcraft, the band's sound is a kinky marriage of underworld ambience and song, a union which manages to surprise without ever resorting to shock for shock's sake. Lead Angel, Pietra Wexstun teases an astonishing array of sounds from her organ, autoharp, and theremin (that whooping, wailing instrument which leant an illicit drug buzz to Good Vibrations). DIGITAL AUSTRALIA
PIETRA WEXSTUN is the driving force behind Hecate's Angels - she sings, writes, and plays keyboards and a mean theremin for the band, who reside on Sierra Madre-based Birdcage Records. Wexstun is quite fascinating, both musically and existentially.
"It all began many light years ago, in another galaxy.." Wexstun reflects. I've had a lot of intense experiences. Part of it is having grown up on two continents. My father is from Italy. He's a poet and professor of Italian literature. He'd read Dante's Inferno and Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience to my brother and me as bedtime stories. My mother is American. She was an opera singer. That's where all the early musical stuff comes from. When I began listening to the radio and hanging out with friends at school, I began rebelling against the classical straightjacketing and got into a lot of folk, blues, and rock stuff. I used to drive my mom crazy with my Carter family records. I listened to Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles first, then all the psychedelic bands like Country Joe and the Fish, the Doors, and, of course, Hendrix. When I got to college, I began listening to a lot of avant-garde composers like Luciano Berio. He was a sound collagist who would juxtapose lines from Beckett plays against Mahler symphonies, and then throw in people screaming. It was an early form of sampling.
"I had a band in college called Uncle Daddy and the Moon People. (laughs) We called it "Appalachian Nightmare Music." It had the Cramps' creepiness fused with a lonesome hillbilly sound, like people up in the hills drinking too much moonshine and hallucinating. Then I joined the short-lived, but legendary Neptune Society - all we did were John Barry covers. He's the guy who wrote all the music for the James Bond films. We had to "cease and desist" when lawyers from the cremation and burial service we took the name from showed up at a gig."
Wexstun then explained the genesis of her long, fruitful friendship with another less than ordinary figure - Stan Ridgway.
"Stan and I met at a Charlie Musselwhite concert at the Troubadour. A friend of mine knew the doorman there, and he used to let us in. My friend was dating Stan's roommate, who also worked at the Troubadour. When Stan showed up, we started talking and found out we had a lot in common. That was 20 years ago. I knew him before he formed Wall of Voodoo." And how has Ridgway influenced her musical career?
"Oh, a lot! In fact I think we've both influenced each other. I've performed with Stan's solo band since 1986. Then last year we formed Drywall. There's a shared sensibility in terms of our approach. We both have an interest in creating an atmospheric bed where one can tell a story, explore an emotion. It isn't so much about chops and solos. It's about melody and texture.
Hidden Persuader, the Hecate's Angels debut record, upholds that philosophy. It is fraught with mysterious, enigmatic sensibilities and sounds. Hecate is, after all, the Greek goddess of sorcery and witchcraft. Wexstun jokes that she has been referred to as the "sonic sorceress."
"I've always been fascinated by strange, eerie sounds, from the first time I blew air over a coke bottle, you know, those sounds you discover when you're a kid. When I started fooling around with analog synths, because of all the oscillators, knobs and faders, I was able to elicit those same kind of spooky, quasi-human, wounded animal voices. It was great!"
Many of those voices also come from the theremin, an odd-looking, spherical instrument, which Wexstun plays with both grace and intensity.
"Oh the theremin - the first time I played the theremin, I had actually borrowed Stan's. He had one of those with the metal plates. He sold it, and now I hear that they go for about $4,000.00 I found a guy in Milwaukee who makes them for considerably less, and now I have a sort of globular-looking one. It works by moving your hand in the vicinity of two oscillators operating at a radio frequency. One is constant and one is varied. The variable oscillator frequency changes by the motion of your hand. The difference between the two is an audio tone.
"The theremin was actually the first electronic instrument. There's a movie about Leon Theremin, the Russian guy who invented it and this amazing virtuoso/a, Clara Rockmore, who would actually play the thing with symphony orchestras. It's a wonderful instrument, and I love the mysterious place it takes me to."
The Angels themselves are as tempermental as the theremin. "We refer to ourselves as a loose confederation of loose cannons. We never know where fate will take us. We shift and change and find our way back to each other, kind of like wax in a lava lamp." The blobs are as interesting as the main light source.
"Pat Answers," Pietra says brightly, "he's the guitarist. He's from Poway, CA. Now he lives in Venice Beach, but I met him in Berkeley. He was in a band called The Nude Man, based on a real guy who used to go to all his classes on the Berkeley campus in the nude as a form of protest. Pat's done gigs on Mexican cruise ships and played the Misson Bay Circuit in San Diego and lounges in Las Vegas. He goes through phases where he hates music and decides he's going to chuck it all and buy a chicken ranch. He has periods of intense anti-social behavior, but he's a good guitarist.
"Bill Blatt, he's a Minneapolis funk meister. Jeffrey Grennan, he's from Chicago. He was in a band called the Toreador Reptiles - like Tijuana Brass meets Ennio Morricone doing bebop. Elmo Smith (drums) is from Detroit , 'nuff said - and James T. Hill (also drums), he's from Alabama. He just did a thing for the new Jackie Chan movie trailer. He's really into hot percussion, violence, and action.
"Then, of course, there's Stan Ridgway. He plays harmonica and banjo on the record. Banjo was one of the first instruments he played as a kid. He'd just bought a new one and wanted to try it out. "
While Wexstun enjoys composing music for L.A. art installations (such as Christi Ava's Nice Ladies in Cages and Barry Fahr's Visuadelia) and the cosy confines of Birdcage Records, how would she feel about being successful?
"Success is a state of mind. I just love music. I try to stay focused on the music."
Copyright 2014 Pietra Wexstun & Hecate's Angels